Third edition of USA copyright office compendium – compilations and collective works

Compilations

The Copyright Act defines a “compilation” as “a work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.”

Compilations are among the nine categories of works that can be specially ordered or commissioned as a work made for hire, provided that the parties expressly agree in a signed written instrument that the compilation shall be considered a work made for hire. Typically, the author of a compilation selects the preexisting material or data that will be included in the compilation, the author classifies, categorizes, or groups these elements into particular sequences, and the author decides how these elements should be arranged within the compilation as a whole.

A compilation may be registered if the author’s selection, coordination, and/or arrangement of preexisting material or data were independently created, and if the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement contain a sufficient amount of creativity. A registration for a compilation may cover the author’s original selection, coordination, and/or arrangement, but it does not cover any preexisting material or data that is included in the compilation.

A compilation may be registered if the selection, coordination, and/or arrangement as a whole would be considered a literary work, a musical work, or any other type of work listed in 17 U.S.C. § 102(a). If the author’s selection, coordination, and/or arrangement do not fall within one or more of the congressionally established categories of authorship, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant or may refuse registration.

Collective Works and Contributions to Collective Works

The Copyright Act defines a “collective work” as a work “in which a number of contributions, constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are assembled into a collective whole.” A contribution to a collective work is a separate and independent work that has been included within a collective work.

Collective works are a subset of compilations. Consequently, the author must select, coordinate, and/or arrange the component works in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship. Both collective works and contributions to collective works are among the nine categories of works that can be specially ordered or commissioned as a work made for hire, provided that the parties expressly agree in a signed written instrument that the work shall be considered a work made for hire.

Collective works and contributions to collective works may be registered (draft) as nondramatic literary works, provided that they contain a sufficient amount of literary expression. Examples of collective works that may satisfy this requirement include a periodical issue, an anthology, an encyclopedia, or any other work that contains a number of separate and independent works that have been assembled into a collective whole. Examples of a contribution to a collective work that may satisfy this requirement include an article that has been included within a periodical issue, an essay that has been included within an anthology, or an entry that has been included within an online encyclopedia.

Collective works typically contain two different types of authorship:

  • The authorship in the collective work as a whole, which may involve selecting, coordinating, and/or arranging a number of separate and independent works and assembling them into a collective work, and/or revising the collective work as a whole.
  • The authorship in the separate and independent works that have been included in the collective work, which may contain literary expression and/or artistic expression.

An applicant may register a collective work together with the separate and independent works contained therein (i) if the copyright in the contributions and the collective work are owned by the same claimant, and (ii) if the component works have not been previously published or registered. In no case may the claimant register a contribution that is in the public domain.